Regardless of whether he steps on the field for a few plays, a full quarter or a half of football tonight, quarterback Patrick Ramsey will be the focus. The Washington Redskins' starters are not expected to play much of the preseason opener in Carolina, and the Panthers will rely heavily on reserves as well, yet Ramsey's performance will be discussed and critiqued as the team attempts to right an abysmal 2004 offense.
Ramsey, 26, assumed the starting job after replacing veteran Mark Brunell in the second half of last season, but he has not always looked the part early in this training camp. Ramsey has not been particularly crisp, was erratic in a scrimmage at Baltimore last weekend and, considering Brunell and first-round draft pick Jason Campbell will be taking snaps in these preseason games as well, the coaches will be looking for Ramsey to perform far above the level he did during the 2004 preseason, when Brunell beat him out.
"I'm taking it pretty seriously," Ramsey said of tonight's outing. "We've got a good defense to go against and a good team to measure ourselves against. I'm really looking forward to it. We'd like to score some points and move the ball efficiently. I think as long as we're able to do that, we'll be successful."
The Redskins have modest expectations for the four preseason games, and while it is dangerous to place too much emphasis on a club's wins and losses in August, displaying a modicum of offensive continuity and improvement is a must for a unit that ranked 30th last season. Their goal is to average 21 points a game -- they hit that plateau only three times last season -- and, after an offseason dedicated to opening up the offense, overhauling the wide receivers and emphasizing speed to resurrect a deep passing game, these games will allow coaches to gauge incremental progress in the long passing game.
"We'd love to get one or two balls downfield," Ramsey said.
"We tried the deep balls last week against Baltimore," offensive coordinator Don Breaux said, "and we'll continue to do that. It's one of our goals, and we'll continue to work on that, and hopefully we'll be successful."
Gibbs is notorious for concealing much of his system and game plan in the preseason, but there is no denying the team will use more three- and four-receiver sets this season and that the team has tailored the running game to get Clinton Portis, a Pro Bowl pick in 2003, outside with more regularity.
Elementary parts of the game take on much significance in the summer. The offensive line, buoyed by the return of physical right tackle Jon Jansen and the signing of center Casey Rabach, will look to improve upon last weekend's debacle, when the Ravens blitzed with little impediment. Portis will not be exposed too much, given the high risk of injury, but backup Ladell Betts and others will get a chance to play if the Redskins are able to run the ball well.
"We'd like to get good, solid pass protection," Coach Joe Gibbs said, "run the ball and get in some kind of a rhythm and get moving. I think you can kind of tell with the offense; you're either smooth or you're not."
Washington's defense returns much of the group that ranked third in the NFL last season, but it may be difficult to assess them this weekend with so many starters or potential impact players (LaVar Arrington, Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers, Brandon Noble) out with injuries, and the secondary particularly impacted by nagging health problems. The ease with which the defensive staff slipped unheralded players into starring roles has instilled supreme confidence.
There is abundant new personnel competing to make the squad on special teams, and beyond team-oriented goals, the coaches will be monitoring individuals closely. Twelve linebackers are vying to make the team, and injuries in the secondary will provide opportunities for some to play more than they would otherwise. Wide receivers Kevin Dyson and Darnerien McCants are contending for a final roster spot, veteran Rock Cartwright is trying to hold off a handful of runners as a reserve in the backfield and there is competition to make the team at offensive and defensive line as well.
"To be quite truthful," Gibbs said, "some guys seem to stand up, you know, when the film starts rolling, and you go full-go. Some guys seem to have a way of elevating themselves and really playing good, and some guys back up, you know, and that's what you need to find out.
"Some guys look pretty good in practice and don't play well, so I think that's the biggest thing we need to see. Special teams is going to find hopefully some guys there covering kickoffs and punts who show us they're really capable of helping us. So there's so many things there, and it's a chance for a guy to make a statement is what I tell them. And you need it to try to figure out where you are individually, and as a team."